Until recently, new “retro”-themed bikes have been a bit of a sketchy proposition. Although motorcyclists young and old say they love the relaxed retro look, they haven’t always backed up that claim with their hard-earned dollars, leaving retro bikes to define a very small niche in the motorcycle mainstream.
The category was launched almost single-handedly by the Royal Enfield Bullet. A formerly British single, the Bullet’s been in continuous production in India for over 50 years, outliving its creator company by some 38 years, and it’s only just now getting some serious updating to bring it — at least technologically — into the 21st century.
Honda came and went with its GB500 single in 1989-1990 (see Under the Radar, page 12), Kawasaki rolled out its W1-inspired (itself inspired by a BSA A60) W650 in 2000 but pulled it from the U.S. the next year, and Triumph, rightly sensing a missed opportunity, introduced its modern interpretation of the Bonneville in 2001.
Although the Enfield came first, the Bonneville seems to be the bike that really launched the category stateside; since then, we’ve seen a steady uptick in new retros. Triumph keeps adding new models to its Modern Classics series, Ducati has its Seventies-inspired Sport Classic series, and Moto Guzzi has the California Vintage and recently added the V7 Classic — including the new V7 Classic Café (see page 26) — to its retro portfolio.
Today, the category has grown to a point that heavy-weight Harley-Davidson is gambling there’s a future in the past, prompting the introduction of the XR1200, a fresh retro blast with styling directly inspired by H-D’s iconic and race winning XR750 of 1970-1980.